Invisible Disabilities on TV: Why Can’t They Get It Right?

Character Scott Malkinson from South Park

Character Scott Malkinson from South Park

Almost every TV show has at least one episode with a character who has a condition like Asthma, Diabetes, Asperger’s, etc. Nowadays, there are even entire TV series with leading characters who have so-called invisible disabilities, but how many of them manage to come even close to portraying them accurately? The short answer is, almost none of them get it right – or even close. Even if Hollywood refuses to hire people with invisible disabilities, they could at least hire people who might know a little about a given condition, or be willing to do the research, right? How messed up are things, really? Let’s take a look.

A show that, at least for one episode, surprisingly managed to do a pretty decent job was South Park. The premise of the episode “Basic Cable” was that diabetic character Scott Malkinson got his own spinoff show and this episode was the pilot. While there was of course plenty of humorous exaggeration, the writers did a nice job of not only paying attention to certain diabetic in-jokes, but also showing differences in how insulin pump users’ lifestyles differ from those giving shots with syringes. More importantly, this is the ONLY popular show I’ve ever seen that showed a diabetic with an insulin pump – which is honestly ludicrous in modern times. In all fairness, I should probably mention the same characters appearance in the Game of Thrones themed episodes, wherein he’s hypoglycemic for several hours while waiting for pizzas that never come and never goes unconscious. The believability of this is arguable though, because if he was inactive and had stabilized at a low sugar level he actually could stay that way for hours. Now, there are innumerable instances of genuinely bad writing for diabetic characters, but let’s look at just a couple truly terrible examples of storylines with diabetics for comparison.

The most cartoonishly bad example that comes to mind is an episode of Night Court called “The Constitution: Part 1.” In this episode, diabetic character Roz takes too much insulin and as a result of severe low blood sugar wanders around four hours acting delirious and  uninhibited as if she’s drunk or drugged. In reality, she’d act very sluggish and probably go unconscious in less than an hour. In the almost as goofy episode “It’s a Wonderful Death” of the show Medium, there’s a short scene in which the main character’s diabetic boss says “Time for this old diabetic to take his insulin” and then cheerfully trots into his office. Seconds later, he full-body smacks against the glass wall in a violent seizure and slides down as if killed by nerve poison. Too fast, too violent, and just too silly.  A minor instance that comes to mind is  In episode “Stockholm” of the show Battle Creek, one of the main characters is kidnapped and convinces his captor that he’s diabetic and needs insulin. His captor states he worked in the prison pharmacy where he treated diabetic prisoners, so he should know what he’s doing, right? Nope. He brings back the wrong kind, draws a large and totally random dose, and injects it – also causing the protagonist to unrealistically faint from low blood sugar within seconds of the injection and then wake up hours later just fine without having received any help.

There are also many examples of flawed portrayals of people on the autism spectrum, but the most recent, and most annoying in my opinion, is The Good Doctor. In just the first episode alone, they show an astounding lack of effort to do service to people on the spectrum in a number of ways. The most eye-rollingly bad is the very end, wherein the protagonist convinces a review board to hire him by making an impromptu, completely emotional appeal to them during a speech in which he uses vocal variation and eye-contact to sell his point (without any indication to the audience that doing so was an unfamiliar technique or that it required study or practice to carry it off). This is a complete break from who the character is supposed to be, and turns a blind eye to real people on the spectrum because the writers couldn’t find a way to let the character win while still being even remotely realistic. I skipped a few episodes ahead hoping the pilot was just a fluke and that the show would do a better job later, but that’s when I came upon a social overload scene. The protagonist steps into a casino night event and the filmmakers portray the experience for him as if he merely has social anxiety and embarrassment that can easily be overcome. Uh, nope. That’s not how it really works for people with Asperger’s and related conditions. It’s not fear or a trippy experience with blurry vision. It’s being overwhelmed with too much. Too much sound, too much people, too much noise, etc. There are ways that techniques of cinematic grammar have been successfully been used to portray that in the past. This was not that.

Perhaps most ironic is that the best modern portrayal I’ve seen of a character with Asperger’s is claimed by all involved not to have Asperger’s at all. Namely, the character Sheldon Cooper on the show The Big Bang Theory. The writers and actor behind the character have repeatedly claimed he’s not meant to be on the spectrum. But on the other hand he clearly displays just about every common behavior and symptom, from talking in a monotone and avoiding eye-contact to obsession with memorizing details of a special interest and difficulty discerning the feelings of others to preoccupation with certain sets of objects and repetitive behaviors, etc. But even that’s interesting because it can be very difficult to diagnose, so some people on the spectrum refuse to acknowledge the fact that they are, or even that it exists at all. My guess is that the writers avoid diagnosing the character just so they can avoid accusations of improper research when they have him do something that doesn’t fit. They can practice CYA all they want, but the viewers clearly still know what’s going on, so it seems more lazy than anything else. Or, who knows, maybe one or more of the writers is on the spectrum and is genuinely in denial. Anything’s possible.

Given that TV shows and movies do an almost universally poor job of portraying people with such conditions, people who represent a little over 10% of the population, I still have to ask the question: why doesn’t Hollywood just hire writers who have the conditions mentioned above (and others) to write, or at least act as script consultants, on these shows? Or even hire them in the actual writers rooms on certain shows? What a radical idea, right!?! It shouldn’t be. This should be perfectly normal. And it’s not like there aren’t a ton of writers good enough who happen to have disabilities. That’s as weak an argument as all the rooms claiming it’s impossible to find enough good ethnic minority writers (the U.S. population is 5% Asian, 12% Black and 17% Hispanic) or good female writers to hire (51% of the U.S. population is female). It also has a lot to do with the now impenetrable practice of ignoring union regulations that state every show must hire outside writers once in a while. Nearly all shows cheat by giving the occasional script to a coordinator or assistant in the same room instead of hiring outside writers, and there aren’t any shows that have an open submission policy anymore (Star Trek: TNG, a great show, was one of the last to accept outside scripts). But the union-busting practices of current showrunners is its own topic. The important thing is that discrimination is based on the personal prejudices and excessively incestuous hiring practices of the showrunners and executives, not on actual facts, numbers, and availability of viable talent – network “diversity fellowships” aside. In short, people with hiring power need to do a better job of countering discriminatory practices, and staffed writers who are ill equipped to write about a given topic need to do better research. And, no, fobbing research off on an already overworked and underqualified writers PA doesn’t count.

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Alternative Endings: How Five of Our Favorite Shows Should Have Ended

There are lots of articles out now about the alternate endings showrunners planned for various shows, and people argue over which would have been better. But in the case of a few shows, I don’t agree with any of them. Since nobody out there has written the right endings for these shows, I’ve decided to do it for them here and now. One thing first, in order to explain why the real endings didn’t work and why mine do, this article will be solid **SPOILERS** from beginning to end. You have been warned.

  1. Dexter

Okay, in order to fix this show I actually need to go a couple seasons back from the end to tweak a couple tiny things that push the narrative flow a certain way (that was totally wrong in the first place).

The first incident I consider a giant character-hole is in season 3, when Dexter allows himself to literally get caught red-handed by Ramon. No! Bad writers! Dexter not only does something objectively stupid there but also breaks the number 1 rule of his code: don’t get caught. So, in my version, Dexter knocks Ramon unconscious from behind, dumps unconscious Ramon somewhere else and disposes of the guy he just skewered without the usual ceremony. This said, I wouldn’t change the parallel NA plotline because that was fairly cunning, if imperfect. Also, the whole thing of him swiping baddies from the authorities by falsifying evidence and such that they started the previous season went against his code and was not a great writing choice, as proven by almost getting him caught twice. I’d cut that too.

Next, I don’t think Dexter should be dumb enough to play with his food, as it were. He shouldn’t save Trinity’s life once he learns enough to prove guilt and warrant his death. The whole “I can learn from him” thing was just a lazy way to extend the season. Trinity should still kill Rita, since that moves the story forward and Rita was an extremely annoying character, but it shouldn’t be because Dexter became an idiot and their son should NOT witness it since that’s a little too cheap a story reflection unless they’re seriously considering a son-of-Dexter spinoff series (groans with revulsion).

Having made these changes, a different ending is inevitable. And, yes, it’s a warm and fuzzy ending instead of an over the top Gothic tragedy ending. Deb either gets a therapist who isn’t a complete sicko or else reports her therapist to the authorities to have her license pulled and then gets a real therapist. Therefore Deb does not go insane and continue to grow progressively more needy. Instead, she gradually becomes more independent of Dexter as a competent cop. Dexter, not having done several mindblowingly stupid things, has no reason to go off half cocked and sloppily kill innocent people or to dispose of his code. Additionally, since he resolved all his issues by nailing his mother’s killers and met a mildly disturbed but otherwise nice girl, the show ends with him, his son, and his new gal becoming Argentinian farmers (or something less ridiculous) and giving up their past lives of violence since they’ve killed everyone who’s wronged them at this point. That, or they become a family of traveling vigilantes ridding the world of (other) serial killers. That would be entertaining.

And, yes, I do think the alternate endings others have suggested of him getting a death sentence or committing suicide are just as eye-roll-worthy as the real ending.

2. Northern Exposure

In the last watchable season, Joel “goes native” and becomes a full on country doctor in an Inuit village. He grows a beard, helps with the community, and becomes at peace for the first time in his life… until Maggie shows up and mentally badgers him into becoming neurotic again and moving back to New York. Nothing on the show was good after that, so I say the show should have alternatively ended with Joel standing up to Maggie and asserting himself in his new life. Maggie shoves off and realizes she’s just a bully – now starting a path towards healing. Joel starts traveling and becomes sort of a community doctor of the world, possibly in organized programs like Doctors Without Borders, but it would be better if he just decided to live in a different place a few years at a time. Ed finally pulls his head out of his butt and starts making scripted indie films, which he then shows in the theater he was working in. Chris gets his show picked up by some bunch of online hipsters and gets to spout his nonsense to like-minded people.

3. How I Met Your Mother

I’m fairly open on this one. Either Ted marries just Robin (and the Barney thing never happened, because yuck), or else he marries Tracy and she doesn’t die. The real ending was just a mess.

4. Friends

Rachel marries Ross (not because of the baby), Chandler and Monica get to have their own kids instead of being barren, Phoebe marries David (Hank Azaria), and Joey becomes a drama teacher at the school where Chandler and Monica’s kids will attend. There, now, see how simple that was?

5. Game of Thrones

Now, let me first state that I really only care about a few characters, and that this is just based on the events of the first few episodes, because I never made it any farther, but a good ending seems pretty easy to extrapolate from there if we ignore most of what came afterwards. Jon Snow rightfully inherits the kingdom and rules as a benign and even-handed king, making Arya his head knight of the realm and ruler of his armies. Bran becomes gamekeeper of the vaguely magical wolves, and all the other main characters get eaten by a particularly fat dragon never to be seen or heard from again.

Well, that wraps it up. I might do more of these if I’m feeling especially silly. And, hey, maybe I’ll talk about this concept on my podcast if I can convince someone I know to lend me an hour of their time.

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A Bright Outlook on These Dark Times

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I’ve decided to do text-based posts that run parallel in subject matter to the new podcast. Not an exact transcript necessarily, but pretty close. This is the first.

We know a lot about this situation (living under the weight of a pandemic) is dark times. It’s on the news and our social media feeds every blinking day. But for this episode I’d like to talk about something that isn’t covered so much these days, and that’s the good things that have come out of this situation.

For us in the entertainment industry, and a lot of people in other industries, telework or working from home, has been possible in large measure for almost 40 years, so why have most employers consistently claimed it was impossible, that it would cost more, or that it was less efficient? The fact is, many jobs, including screenwriting, video editing, and nearly every job in animation, have made the switch over the last couple of weeks and from what I’ve heard from several friends (after the initial bump of figuring out a new workflow) it’s going very smoothly so far.

In most cases, the only reason employers insist on forcing employees to be where they can walk up and touch them at all times is really because they don’t trust their employees. Those, in many cases, are the companies that are currently laying off employees rather than letting them telework and trusting that they’re using their time as efficiently as they would at an office. From personal experience, I can tell you that I actually work harder and more efficiently at home than I do at an office. There are even studies out there proving that teleworkers are more productive and efficient, more physically healthy, and happier than their office-bound counterparts. Hopefully the good of more entertainment workers being transitioned to telework during the pandemic will create some permanent changes in how we do business in the future. At the very least, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t all have to cram ourselves into Los Angeles just to work in jobs that we can easily do from anywhere in the world, just like many of us are doing right now?

Another real positive, at least early on before the shelter in place order, was that sick leave was not considered shameful. People were, for once, so scared of illness (or at least of a new social pressure) that sick employees were sent home with sick pay until they were well. That’s what’s supposed to happen, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen in happen, especially in this industry where everyone is bullied into coming to work no matter how sick they are and no matter how much getting coworkers sick will slow down productivity in the long run.

The same thing is happening in schools and universities. Thousands of classes that claimed they had to be in person are finally admitting that all of the learning and the work can be done online. Now, granted this isn’t the case for hands-on classes like clinical portions of nursing programs or certain physical production classes, but the vast majority of subjects can and should be available as online options – and now they are – at least for a while.

There are also some really basic behaviors out in the world at large that everyone ideally should have been doing before the quarantine that they are now doing, and they’re awesome. For example, washing your hands. It always seemed so weird to me that most people never wash their hands before they eat food, and a lot don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom. If even a small number of people like that are being convinced to have better habits because of this, I definitely put that in the win column.

Here’s another great example. Nearly every airline just installed HEPA filters in the air circulation systems inside airplanes so that germs and bacteria get filtered out of the air in a plane full of a couple hundred people. How insane is it that they weren’t already doing this? I’m hoping they’ll keep it up even after this is over because it would keep passengers so much healthier in the future.

Then there’s gas stations. Have you noticed how now, especially at Costco gas stations, they have attendants come and sanitize the pump handles and payment panel after each customer. What a great idea, right? Think how many thousands of people touch those surfaces every week and before now, you were getting all their contaminants on your hands too.

One truly amazing thing that’s happened as a result of this is that homelessness is being taken seriously. It’s always been an emergency, especially in big cities like Los Angeles, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it treated like one. There’s emergency housing being made available, tons of mobile laundry units, showering and hand-washing stations, and even more mobile medical clinics.

There are also expansions for unemployment benefits and changes in policies surrounding housing and loan payments during the emergency that, possibly, could lead to realizations about how flawed the current system is – hopefully leading to the drafting of some new laws.

Finally, there’s the fact that this pandemic has increased awareness for healthcare issues being talked about by at least one presidential candidate, namely plans like lowering prescription prices, making the U.S. self-sufficient for certain drug and medical supply manufacturing, and Medicare for all – the term used to describe a government subsidized healthcare plan ensuring that everyone in the country has free or low-cost healthcare regardless of their economic status.

If the only permanent policy change to come out of this disaster is the adoption of policies guaranteeing affordable high-quality healthcare for every American, then it’s possible that we can prevent or significantly decrease the effects of the next global pandemic. And, given that a lot about the way this disease came about and spread was helped along by the effects of climate change and drastic global income inequality, there will absolutely be a next time.

But my point is this. As with every war, every disaster, every mass need in history, there are a lot of positive outcomes in addition to the many hardships that result from them. The trick will be making sure we keep track of all the good ideas and practices we’re coming up with now, and ensuring that they don’t just disappear and get forgotten once this particular emergency starts to become more manageable. The same old same old is what got us here, so if we can make a few of these lifestyle, workflow, and policy changes last, it’ll make for a brighter future both within the entertainment industry and for our everyday lives.

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The Podcast Has Begun…

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Hello to one and all. This blog, which I have operated on and off for a decade now, is finally getting its own podcast. There’s only a trailer up there now, but the first (short but sweet) introductory episode will go live at 2am pst tonight.

You can listen either by clicking the Podcast tab at the top of the page or by clicking here.

 

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Top 20 Christmas Movies, Other Than Versions of A Christmas Carol

Top 20 Christmas Movies

A couple of years ago, I gave you readers my Top 5 Versions of A Christmas Carol. This year, I’m doing a list of the top 20 other stories made and remade into Christmas movies for you to watch in the days leading up to Christmas.

20. The Thin Man

The Thin Man

You wouldn’t normally think of a murder mystery as being a holiday movie even if it does take place on Christmas, but hey plenty of lists go with Die Hard in this slot so why not the classic that began the fabulous Thin Man film series.

19. We’re No Angels

angelsA surprisingly sweet little story about three convicts who escape from prison and hide out during Christmas with a family as hired handymen, only to help the family so much that they all become pretty nice guys by the end. Kind of similar to Escape by Night, which is not Christmas themed but is a similarly cute film.

18. Beyond Tomorrow

btA nice little story about three sweet old guys who meet a young couple on Christmas and continue to help them as ghosts after they die.

17. Journey to the Christmas Star

journeyThis is a very classic fairytale, but I’d never heard of it before seeing this film. This is a foreign film, and either comes with subtitles or is dubbed in English. But it’s very enjoyable either way. It’s been streamable on Netflix the last 2 years around the holidays, but failing that you can always look for a DVD. I hear Disney is planning on making an English language version at some point, but it would be hard to top this version.

16. Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

hogfatherThis film tells the story of Death temporarily acting as Santa Claus to save Christmas, and in the end to basically save the world in a way. I know, it looks more like a Halloween movie or a blend like Nightmare Before Christmas, right? But it’s actually not. It uses a fake Xmas-like holiday called Hogswatch as an analogy, but it’s very much a Christmas movie with a lot of warm fuzzy moments.

15. A Christmas Story (1983)

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Okay, personally I don’t feel it. But for Baby Boomers this is THE Christmas movie, and often feel that the writer somehow followed them around taking notes on their own personal childhood (viz., the scene pictured above where the protagonist is forced to try on a humiliating gift from his aunt). I think of it more as an interesting historical piece, but that’s because it’s inspired by the childhood of people from 2 generations before mine.

14. Home Alone (1990)

Home-Alone

This film definitely has a couple moments that are real head-shakers, but it also has some wonderfully sentimental Christmas spirit moments, and is still a favorite among kids for its silliness and its portrayal of a kid having total control of life (if briefly) and out-smarting bad guys. It’s absolutely one of the classics for Gen Y kids.

13. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

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This is a peculiar movie about con men in a gritty city, but it’s also one of Bob Hope’s better films, and was the genesis of the song Silver Bells.

12. Trading Places (1983)

trading-placesPrimarily a movie about systemic racism and classism, the story takes place over a backdrop of the holiday season. It also has one of the funniest scenes in all of moviedom, involving drunk Dan Aykroyd wearing a grungy Santa suit and trying to eat a poached salmon through his false beard on a public bus.

11. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

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Not sure how today’s audiences would react to Jim Varney’s Ernest character, but to us Gen Y kids (or maybe just to me and my brother) we felt like we’d just about die laughing from watching his films. In this movie, Ernest helps Santa teach some people the true meaning of Christmas, and helps find a new Santa.

10. Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

SantaAndTheThreeBearsThis is a really obscure one, and the animation is super cheesy, but it’s a classic nonetheless. I’ve only ever seen it on what used to be the Family Channel, but as you can see it’s now available on DVD. The movie tells the story of two bear cubs who learn about Christmas from their friend the park ranger, and are so eager to see Santa that they wake up their hibernating mama bear to celebrate.

9.  Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

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Okay, I’ll have to admit you need to be a child of the 80s to appreciate this one since it’s so bizarre (as you can tell from the cover image) and contains so many human anachronisms (where else are you going to see Charo, K.D Lang, Frankie & Annette, and Magic Johnson all in one place?), but this has definitely become a nostalgic part of how I think of the holidays.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

peanutsxmasI actually find most of this movie pretty depressing and pessimistic, like the rest of the Peanuts oeuvre, but it has a couple of good contemplative moments and they play it on TV every flipping year so it doesn’t feel like Christmas without seeing it.

 

7. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

mupptxmasBest Muppet Christmas special EVER! Not just some of the Muppets, this one has ALL of the Muppets, from Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock and everyone in-between. It even has Jim Henson himself in there for a cameo at the end. There’s also some great music from every era, and a cute story.

6. White Christmas (1954)

whitexmasThis movie, seen as the spiritual sequel to Holiday Inn, makes a big use of color and showmanship (as you can discern from the big costume number pictured above). It also features Danny Kaye in an unusually un-weird role, likely because the part was originally intended for Fred Astaire, and then tweaked for Bob Hope, and then finally given to Kaye. Any of those guys would have been fine, but I like the way it worked out too.

5. Holiday Inn (1942)

holiday-inn-movieNow this one would have been interesting to have seen in color. There was one song and dance number for each major holiday, all with elaborate costumes. As much as I’m a tad put off by seeing Astaire as somewhat of a bad guy (and by one costume number that’s, shall we say, incredibly racist) this film still stands out as one of the top Christmas (or holiday in general) movies of all time.

4. The Snowman (1982)

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I actually only discovered this movie a couple of years ago. It’s so poetic and beautiful that it instantly became part of my yearly fare. It almost looks like the whole thing was watercolor paintings come to life. The version I’m familiar with has a foreword by David Bowie, which in itself is kind of a surprise.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 12.51.32 PMThe original, and still the best, this version had the Grinch voiced by the legendary Boris Karloff and included some memorable music. If you still haven’t seen it, there’s a gaping hole in your life.

2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle-on-34th-StreetThis was my favorite holiday movie as a kid because I saw it as a story about the importance of never losing your inner kid, and how kindness can change people and organizations for the better. Now, granted, the film is probably meant to be more about faith, optimism, and commercialism, but I don’t care and I still like it. This is the best version of the film (as long as you avoid the strangely colorized release). Other versions rewrite the ending and other parts in ways that aren’t as funny – or as logical for that matter.

1. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)

santacomintotownThis Santa Claus origin story was a stop-motion animated TV movie, but you wouldn’t know it from the fine storytelling, silly comedy, great voice acting, catchy music, and quite excellent production value. This movie tells the story of how baby Claus was found by a family of elves and grows up to rebel against the anti-fun burgermeister by distributing toys to children. There have been a few attempts at books and movies telling a story about how Santa came to be, but this is the only one worth seeing. It’s also the best non-Dickensian Christmas movie out there.

 

By the way, if you’re looking for just a giant list of Xmas movies, great and terrible alike, this is a good place to start.

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Review: Thor: Ragnarok

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Story: Thor and other characters from previous Marvel films team up to save Asgard from an evil being (saying anything more would be a spoiler, sorry).

Review: This movie is HILARIOUS. The plot/story is pretty generic, but it doesn’t matter because it’s only there as a platform for all the great comedy writing. I can hardly believe this is a sequel to the ultra-boring original Thor movie, but clearly they’ve grown a lot as filmmakers since then. They take every possible opportunity to tell jokes – and further kudos to them for leaning hard into the cheap laughs. The actors and editors to a really excellent job of over-under acting at the right moments and getting the timing just right on delivery of punchlines. Even the visual gags that are predictable are still funny because they go that extra couple of inches to make it more ridiculous. The action is okay, and the visual effects are stunning in parts (look at even the detail in the pretty rainbow bridge above! Ooo!), but more importantly this is the best comedy I’ve seen in years.

Recommended for: Marvel superhero movie fans, people who like comedy and laugh at a good fart joke.

Content notes: (7+) – Monsters with glowing eyes and some blood/goo spatter situations.

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The Top 20 Feminist Movies of All Time

A lot of films try really hard to portray women in some ‘correct’ way, but they often fall short by either avoiding one stereotype so hard that they end up with another equally flat stereotype or else they just ring false to such a degree that almost none of the film is believable, much less enjoyable. Therefore, I’m deliberately leaving out of this list any movies which exclusively or heavily feature female characters that are excessively mentally/emotionally unbalanced or that just spend the whole movie being helpless/brainless females who are needlessly tormented, without doing so to make a worthy point (viz., All About Eve, Gone with the Wind, Rosemary’s Baby, The Silence of the Lambs, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Million Dollar Baby, Chicago, Thelma & Louise, Carrie, V for Vendetta, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Basic Instinct, Juno, Boys Don’t Cry, Erin Brockovich, etc.). This is a list of the top 20 films that succeeded in presenting a complex, balanced female point of view while somehow avoiding all (or most) of the usual pitfalls – ranked in a highly debatable order. This fact alone, regardless of whether or not the female protagonist in question was the main character of the story, is the criteria being used.

20. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
The_Ghost_and_Mrs_Muir_2When I was little I was very impressed with the fact that this movie had both a mother and daughter who weren’t stereotypically afraid of ghosts, and also with how dignified Gene Tierney’s character was in general. To be fair, I will also include the opposition to my opinion (which comes primarily from my dad). It’s true that the main character is conned and betrayed by a skunk of a guy, and that her success as an authoress is entirely because she’s ghost-writing (so to speak) the words of a male character. To this commentary, I would argue that the point of the movie was not so much the mistakes or triumphs of Mrs. Muir as it was how she learned from her mistakes – and more importantly how she and Captain Gregg raised Anna Muir to be a better and more competent woman than her mother (this was my main takeaway seeing it as a little girl, so perhaps this point is lost on adult first-time viewers).

19. Legally Blonde (2001)

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Okay, bear with me on this one because you’ll have to think about it for a second. On the surface, if you’ve never sat through the whole film, it looks like a movie about a dumb blonde who brings “grrrl power” to Harvard. But it’s really not. This is a film about how people shouldn’t judge a woman as not being smart or competent just because she likes the color pink and and obsesses over pop culture and fashion as a hobby. She’s capable and intelligent enough to do well in a tough environment without significantly altering herself, and she’s confident enough to walk into a snotty law school wearing pink and carrying a tangerine iBook. It’s a story about how people can defy categorization when they really try and don’t give up. It’s also the story of a girl who starts out thinking a man can love her without also respecting her, but finds out that if she respects herself and expects men to do the same she’ll be much happier in life. The protagonist, and even the female rival who *spoiler alert* eventually becomes her ally when they bond over a mutual struggle for respect in the legal profession, are not 2D characters. That’s pretty unusual for this kind of comedy. Now, granted, the sequels to this film suck beyond belief in every conceivable way, but I’m only talking about this one

 

18. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

daisyDespite the fact that the leading lady in this one is very in control of her destiny and powers, which is part of why the film’s on this list, one could argue against it by saying she allows herself to be manipulated by her romantic interests to a certain degree. BUT the realization of that by the modern incarnation of her through her past life allows her to grow a sense of self enough to become more independent in the newer era. This forces the viewer to think about feminist issues in a creative way.

17. Supercop (1992)

yeohMichelle Yeoh plays a supporting character in this film, but she plays the equal half of a team of cops with amazing physical skills who take down the bad guys. Jackie Chan is also great in this film, but that’s entirely beside the point. Yeoh’s character is neither weak nor faux-macho. She’s just a supercop doing her job.

16. Hello, Dolly! (1969)

dollyDolly’s the master of all she surveys through the power of being a cunning and confident (if a bit sneaky) gal. Many different character types are depicted in this film, but the main character is a type of role not usually written for women and someone who is clearly very comfortable being exactly who she is no matter how garishly she might be perceived by others. One could argue that casting a younger than usual actress for the film was a bit ageist, but Streisand was undeniably the best suited for the part because of her personality and how she played the role – and her phenomenal singing.

15. Auntie Mame (1958)

mameThis film portrayed a wide range of female personalities, while exploring them at length from a societal and philosophical standpoint. Mame is by no means a perfect person. She’s not especially talented or persistent at many of the things she tries, and she’s frequently self centered or inconsiderate. But she’s also independent and free-thinking, creative, bold, and brave. She breaks her nephew from the influence of prejudice and challenges the traditional view of a single parent for both herself and a certain Ms. Gooch. Auntie Mame paved the way for a completely new kind of female protagonist in media.

14. I.Q. (1994)

iqYes, it’s true that Meg Ryan’s character isn’t officially the protagonist of the movie, but having a girl who’s more of a genius than Einstein and just needs a little push in the social arena is still a vastly agreeable portrayal of a 1950s woman compared to most.

13. Independence Day (1996)

vivicaVivica A. Fox’s character, seen here in an action pose from the film, is arguably a minor one, but certainly memorable as a strong one. Jasmine could have easily been a dreadfully flat character, about like her flaky co-worker who got toasted. But instead the filmmakers pulled together a character who was multilayered, tough, and every bit as heroic as her male counterpart in a different set of circumstances. It’s hard to argue in favor of any positive portrayal of a stripper in a movie, but this one defies the norms so well that it overcomes and even becomes a commentary on the situation itself.

12. Harry Potter film series (2001-2011)

hermYes, these films deserve recognition because a female writer has towered above all men before her with the success of the franchise, but really these movies are basically just on the list for Hermione. She’s by no means the main character, but she’s such a great character that she stands out. She’s a genius, a tough cookie, an activist, and really the backbone of the trio. Luna’s a great character too, but not in the same way. Hermione is THE feminine icon of these stories, and possibly the defining feminine fictional character of a generation who grew up on these stories.

11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Sarah-ConnorYeah, she’s in a looney bin in the beginning, but that’s not really her fault. You’d be a little on edge too if the same backstory had happened to you and the fate of all humanity rested on your ability to protect and train your offspring against homicidal cyborg things. And of course it’s nice that Sarah Connor in this movie kicks some serious butt and raises her son to free Earth from an evil computer. They undid how cool she is in T3 and the TV show, but that’s why I ignore the existence of everything after T2 as being beneath contempt. There were recently some negative articles about this film after people got all huffy over a critique of Wonder Woman, the huffy writers mostly being men who don’t see how ironic it is to rant about how women are portrayed since their main complaint was that Sara Connor didn’t look or act feminine enough and was therefore faux-masculine (a comment which only an insecure and in-denial sexist would make about any woman in the first place). Anyways, Connor is a character with considerable psychological and emotional depth and displays a tremendously complex character arc over both this movie and the two films combined (but mostly this one since the first movie was just a wee bit stupid).

10. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

sallyThe character of 9-year-old Sally Salt, seen here brilliantly played by the now very famous Sarah Polley, begins and moves the whole story forward by being more brave, driven, and strong willed than the group of grown men comprising the rest of the team. A most unusual protagonist for an 80s fantasy film, and one of the great female characters in fiction.

9. Star Wars – original trilogy (1977-1983)

LeiaThis image may not be the most dignified shot of Princess Leia, but it does illustrate a point: although she was a princess in need of rescuing, she shot her way out with everyone else and continued to take part in the rebel revolt as more than just a royal leader. One of the most common arguments against multi-faceted female characters is that they’re somehow non-feminine or unfeeling. There’s no way to make that argument float against Leia; not one. Yes, she’s a tough cookie. So are a lot of women in real life. She falls in love with a guy without taking any of his guff (women don’t have to be melodramatic victims to be feminine!), and then sneaks in to rescue his Vaseline-covered fanny from a giant slug-worm thing. She does do some emotional game-playing with Han Solo early on, but she grows as a person over the course of the story to act more maturely later on. Even looking at it in the most shallow way possible though, she spends a huge portion of the last movie bonding with a community of fluffy teddy bear things, which shows a softer side as well. But I digress. My point is that, especially for a silly space opera based on old serials, she was a remarkably well-rounded and representative portrayal of a feminist character. My only beef is that when they brought her back for Force Awakens (which admittedly was not written by Lucas as the others were) she was in no way a Jedi and didn’t lift a finger to go after her nutty son like the still action-packed (if un-characteristically gullible and dumb) Han Solo was in that film.

8. New York Stories (1989)

newyorkstories-03For me, this is THE modern-day fairytale and a fine tongue-in-cheek role model for little girls. It has a mythological and magical feel, but all takes place in common settings with nothing strictly impossible occurring. The main character is a little girl who thwarts jewel thieves, saves a royal family from scandal and teaches a prince about friendship, and steers the destiny of her family – all without getting cartoonish or over the top. By being worldly from education and experience, yet childish in her curiosity and sense of fun, all without being spoiled or emotionally unstable, Zoe is a wonderfully aspirational character.

7. A League of Their Own (1992)

leagueI’ve always been a little annoyed by the ending in this one (and I think Hanks was the wrong casting choice for the coach since he’s too warm and fuzzy for that kind of role, but I digress), but the main point of the film is that it features a nuanced look at women from all walks of life with every character type who break silly gender barriers in sports.

6. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

actThis film showcases a range of personality types, and some fantastic singing by the whole cast. But it’s on this list because Whoopie plays a dynamic and capable leader (teamed up with other capable and talented women) without the usual feet of clay they tend to give these characters (e.g. being a domestic abuse victim, having an affair with a student or other teacher, being an alcoholic, etc., etc., etc.).

5. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 6.14.36 PMIn this film, Whoopie plays an office drone who gets caught up in espionage and saves the life of a spy. As far as I have seen, this was as close as we’ve come to a female equivalent for action-comedies like Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop (with the VERY recent exception of Spy, which unlike this film was directed by a man). It has a female protagonist, female director, and is told from a noticeably female point of view. Really, why the heck haven’t more films like this been made by now?

4. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

bondCarole Bouquet plays the tough, determined, and capable female co-star in this film who avenges the deaths of her family and even saves Bond a couple of times. You’ll have to fast-forward past all the godawful scenes with Lynn Holly-Johnson’s poorly acted, face-palmingly dumb, and unbearably man-hungry character (which I suppose could be seen as included to highlight the opposite of Bouquet’s ultra competent and intelligent character, but that’s a tough argument). She’s an outstanding female character in both this film and when set against all other Bond movies – which is really pitiful if you think about how many there are. When I was little I used to think the female lead in Moonraker was the shining example, and then Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies. But then I realized that both of those examples are actually a patronizing commentary against feminism. This is a huge pity because Yeoh does an amazing job in her role and would have been the best example if not for some bad writing.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

buffyUnlike the sitcom-turned-trashy-soap-opera TV show version of Buffy, the movie version had an admirable leading lady – possibly largely because of her character arc from useless fop to competent modern woman and warrioress. Also, this character is a bit of a callback to some of the same reasons Legally Blonde is on the list having to do with maintaining your identity and tastes in tough circumstances. Okay, I can hear some of you out there saying, “But she was trained by a male father-figure!” And to that I say, “What’s wrong with that?” Everyone has two parents, and one of them is male. Some stories will have mother-figures for female protagonists and others will have father-figures. Balance is good and it doesn’t need to be all one way. Also, if you really want to take on currently trendy parlance, you could say he’s a “male ally” to a female character’s feminist growth. Either way, my point is the same. This is a particularly good movie about a strong female character.

2. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

prideThis mini-series adaptation (basically a really long movie) shows a wide range of the female personality, but focuses upon that of an intelligent, free-thinking, and bold lady, who is also polite and willing to admit when she’s wrong. Also, it’s nice to see a story about a woman to whom a man is drawn primarily by the strength of her unusually fine personality.

  1. Yentl (1983)

yentlA very deliberately feminist musical (written, directed, and starred in by an independent and creative woman) that shows the value of knowledge and honors the role of forward-thinking fathers. Nuff said.

 

A couple close contenders that didn’t make the list, and why not:

Hidden Figures came close, but it has several flaws – which ironically stem from the writers straying too far from reality. For example, a recurring gag that bothered me was when the main character ran across the campus to use the segregated toilet. Initially it bothered me because it seemed so out of character for a woman scientist. The ones I’ve known were eminently practical and had a great deal of grit, so I expected her to just go ahead and use the ladies room that was in the building regardless of what anyone thought (which I later found out is exactly what the woman did in real life). I think sticking to reality would have been a stronger character choice too, since as far as I can tell the way it was written just made the protagonist weaker and gave her boss an unnecessary (and also non-believable) moment of heroism.

I also considered Wonder Woman. There’s nothing really wrong with open pandering, but honestly her male love interest came off as the true protagonist (he had a noticeable character arc, got all the good lines, put together and led their scruffy band of misfits) with WW as his female sidekick. Also, the WW character in that film was generally too 2-dimensional for my tastes and was constantly being led around by the nose – by men. WW should be a leader, not a human MacGuffin.

Nine to Five I can definitely see an argument for this film, especially when it came out, but it seems very dated to me now and doesn’t offer any kind of real solution or lasting social catharsis.

The Stepford Wives was a decent try, but it’s just too silly and the final argument, though valid, is a little flawed. The remake is no better.

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Notes From a Talk by Walter Murch

murch

Back when I was first trying to figure out an early version of iMovie to cut stuff I’d shot on Hi-8 tapes, more than a decade ago, I saw a documentary named The Cutting Edge. It was revolutionary for me because I had never really, really thought that hard about the editing aspect of filmmaking. Writing, camera, directing, and acting was about all I’d had a clear idea about and I was kind of afraid of all the fancy software. So much so that I had been editing by recording bits of stuff directly onto VHS from my handi-cam as a method of editing. In retrospect, that was an awfully silly thing to do, even if it did work  – in a super clunky way. That film’s central speaker, from an editor’s POV, seemed to be Walter Murch. I was terribly impressed with the whole documentary, the historical perspective on the job, and by what Murch in particular had to say about the practice of editing.

Some years ago when I was in grad school at USC, I had the unique pleasure of attending a talk by the guy who had so impressed me. Now that I have a little more editing experience under my own belt, I was also able to appreciate what he had to say from a beginner’s level of professional respect. I took notes about everything that seemed important at the time, and in case you find them useful too here they are:

He explained that Janus was the god of transitions who looks to both the past and the future, showing an image to match.

He the previous that year he’d finished editing Particle Fever and that year was editing Tomorrowland.

He showed a quote by Victor Fleming about how editors make films look well directed, then gave a brief history of editing and theory.

He said he thinks of editing more as building, pointing out that the word “montage’ is French for the concept of building.

He talked about the word “fungibility,” which has nothing to do with fungus. He explained that it meant the property of changing or transitioning (actually it usually means interchangeable, but that’s pretty close). He illustrated his point by explaining that money changed from gold bricks to symbolic paper like checks around 1500, that energy changed from steam/coal to electricity around 1900, and that information was changing to a digital format in the current era.

He mentioned an essay by Maxim Gorky called “Kingdom of Shadows,” which was about the man’s first time seeing a movie back in 1896 and the fact that he complained about a lack of color and sound right then. And also that he saw the splice from the Lumiere’s “pulling out the Coke” film to the one with the train as a “click” – like an edit.

He mentioned that 11 min of film, 1000ft, weighs 11lb. So 1lb per minute. Apocalypse Now used 14,160 min (7 tons of workprint) and Particle Fever was 32,000 min of footage. He said that was an advantage of digital, that a workflow and storage for that would have been virtually impossible for Particle Fever otherwise.

He mentioned 3 main aspects of editing: Plumbing (his word for workflow), writing (editors must basically write documentaries, and others as well to a degree), and performance.

He said that The Unbearable Lightness of Being had about 50-60 hours of footage mostly shot by Prague film students, and they had to make the new footage match the old by making positive prints off of existing positive work prints with dust and scratches then recombined to edit.

He mentioned that he used  Final Cut 7 for Particle Fever (which had many audio tracks and was 32 bit, and required  four 4 TB drives and one 1TB drive for storage), but that he had to use Avid for Tomorrowland because it’s 64 bit (despite the extremely limited number of tracks one can have) and there were some aspects of the program that were preferable to Premiere for the project.

He showed how he uses big boards with colored notes to organize editing for a project, especially a doc. The colors stand for each major character, triangle shaped bits mean time periods, and diamond shaped bits stand for events.

He uses representative still shots for each camera setup (to show why they shot the given shot) and lists which camera and take they are from.

Using this system, like a structure board and representative images, he explained, was like how having a map makes getting lost okay because you can always use it to find your way back to the river channel, so to speak.

He said Tomorrowland was mostly being shot with a Sony F55 or F65.

He illustrated that in the digital era Pixar and similar film companies make total control over a movie possible, so that  21st Century filmmakers must now choose between a place on the spectrum from over-controlled filmmaking (the older equivalent being how Hitchcock worked) and practically uncontrolled/spontaneous filmmaking (an equivalent being Coppola).

He mentioned that since his assistant editor wrote the manual for FCP X, he had a reasonable assumption that it was made primarily to appeal to inexperienced kids/the general public, but was “not ready for primetime” as it lacked some functionality and was likely released prematurely.

He theorized that the ideal number of cuts per minute was culturally based, but that the ideal number of setups per minute was about 14.

He stands to edit, but sits to review material. He reclines to make ideas drift up from the ether of his mind.

The rest of my notes were packed away in a recent move, so I’ll add to this post later when I find them.

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My Top 100 Favorite Movies

Some years ago, I published a list of the top 100 movies that everyone in filmmaking should see. Today, I’d like to follow that up with my top 100 favorite films list – the ones I enjoy the most regardless of their historical or technical merits. Some appear in both lists, but I think it’s mostly different. I can’t realistically rank them because many are just too different so, as with the other list, they’re in chronological order. Also, it’s likely that I will go back and revise this post from time to time as my tastes change.

This list is also different, because I decided to give a micro-description of what I like about each one – although I might go back and update the other post in this fashion as well.

Either way, here it is:

College (1927) – Keaton included the greatest variety of his physical stunts and jokes in this movie. Also, it’s one of only a handful of films about college that I enjoy.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) – The best version of this story, even if it has little to do with the books. Also, this is where THE Tarzan yell originated.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) – There is so much to love about this period noir thriller. The acting, the editing, the psychology of the writing, and even the humor.
Bright Eyes (1934) – I had to put one Shirley Temple movie on here. This one is probably the most iconic, although Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) is arguably more fun.
Rainbow Valley (1935) – My favorite corny John Wayne western. Honestly, I don’t know why.
Great Guy (1936) – The best Cagney movie in my opinion, and also the only crime thriller I know of involving an agent from the Dept. of Weights and Measure cracking a crime ring.
My Man Godfrey (1936) – Even before I knew the dialogue for this was all improv, I loved this film because it combines some very fine acting with extremely salient social commentary that’s still relevant today (maybe even more than back then).
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) – This film is very sweet and a wonderful social/philosophical discussion piece. It’s also interesting because it’s sort of like a Shirley Temple film, but non-musical and from a male point of view.
Let’s Sing Again (1936) – Largely along the same lines of Fauntleroy, but this time with singing. I really love these old sentimental flickers with good music.
Swing Time (1936) – Tied for first place with the next entry as the best of the Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers movies.
Shall we Dance (1937) – This and the above movie had a lot to do with my taking a year of tap dance and earning 2 degrees in filmmaking.
The Saint in New York (1938) – This film is the first true American Noir movie to my mind. Also the only Saint movie that wasn’t a comedy.
Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) – The best of the Mr. Moto movies. Lorre did an amazing job in this role, but somebody seriously needs to remake these with an actual Japanese actor. Don’t make me do it myself!
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Best (non-comedy) Robin Hood movie ever! Classy, fun, action-packed, well acted. Great costumes too.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) – This film looks into so many aspects of life and humanity, and does it so well. This is one of the few movies with an incredibly sad ending that I absolutely love.
The Four Feathers (1939) – A story about how being thoughtful and non-conformist can get you shunned by people who follow blindly, but can also make you the smartest and most effective agent of change in your actions.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – Okay, the ending is extremely flawed by being unrealistically easy and optimistic. But the main drift of the movie about fighting against corporate corruption in politics and gullibility/pessimism in the public is well done.
Our Town (1940) – An excellent social/psychological/character study. Also, very sentimental and sweet.
The Mark of Zorro (1940) – The first super hero story! Well, sort of. I love the acting in this film, and the fencing scenes. And I like that the heroine isn’t a total idiot like in most superhero films.
Pimpernel’ Smith (1941) – A thematic sequel to Scarlet Pimpernel, this is a powerful adaptation of that story to rescuing victims of the German camps in WWII. Aside from the wonderful acting/writing/editing/etc of this Noir spy thriller, it was also an incredible bit of propaganda to get the Americans involved in the war. If you read up on the history of this film, you’ll find that watching it even influenced a foreign minister to smuggle hundreds of victims out of Germany himself and – that the film’s leading actor may have been a spy in real life.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) – If you only watch one of the Thin Man movie series, make it this one. It has all the best villains and all the cutest quips. My favorite of the series is really Thin Man Goes Home, but it’s largely because that film turns the patterns of the rest of the series on their heads.
Holiday Inn (1942) – Every major holiday in one movie, accompanied by a song for each one! Now, yes, Fred Astaire kind of plays a villain in this one, but if I can get over it so can you. I think it juuust has the edge over White Christmas.
To Be or Not to Be (1942) – This film is at once hilarious, sweet and deadly serious in different parts. Inglorious Basterds can take a flying leap. If you watch one movie about Jews kicking Nazi butts this is the one.
Sons of the Pioneers (1942) – Roy Rogers plays a chemist-cowboy who beats cattle rustlers with science! Also, Gabby Hayes and Pat Brady in the same film as dual sidekicks. Who could ask for more!?!
Stormy Weather (1943) – A great showcase of blues music with some fine acting.
Laura (1944) – This is THE Noir movie, period.
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) – The cutest and silliest of the Thin Man series.
State Fair (1945) – At first I liked this movie because it’s fun and has good music, but in later years (being someone who grew up going to the county fair every year and competing in the contests) I also grew to like it for sentimental reasons. There’s another version of this movie that stinks. Avoid it and watch this one.
Welcome Stranger (1947) – Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald starred in a series of films together, most famously in Going My Way, but this is the best one. They have great onscreen chemistry and comedic timing.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – This is the only good version of the film, mostly because of the great casting. I do have qualms about Santa knocking the bad guy with his cane, but other than that this movie is perfect.
Treasure Island (1950) – If I ever try to write an anti-hero character, Silver will be my model for comparison. He’s not quite a villain, and definitely not a hero. He’s a truly multi-faceted character in a way that doesn’t exist in today’s media. Also, this is just a great adventure story.
Harvey (1950) – Jimmy Stewart at his best, playing a dreamy-eyed yet down to earth man who carries a strange kind of wisdom and inner peace through life in this classic comedy.
Scrooge (1951) – There are a few key story beats in the book that are missing, but overall this is the most faithful and most heartfelt version of the story ever produced on film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – The quintessential science fiction movie, mostly for the atmosphere and general feeling of the movie. It has aliens, a little kid sidekick, social commentary, and nobody acting unduly stupid.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – It’s the best (and kind of the most accurate) film about the entertainment industry I know, and it’s good enough to re-watch again and again. Not to shabby for a film that was only made to sell a list of songs.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) – A great parody of almost everything in 1950s pop culture.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) – The best super-cheesy sci-fi monster movie.
Auntie Mame (1958) – I think I like this film because it embraces the eccentric without being insulting, and because Russel delivers a great performance as usual – unlike the other version of the film (blech!).
St. Louis Blues (1958) – An amazing story, told in an effective way and with surprisingly excellent acting.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – Good music, silly story, entertaining mockumentary antics.
The Endless Summer (1966) – Even if you don’t like or care about surfing, you’ll love this film. It’s just good storytelling, silly comedy, and some gorgeous places.
How to Steal a Million (1966) – Cutest and most romantic heist movie ever.
Wait Until Dark (1967) – Not your average Hepburn film. This is one of the most tense, almost scary at times, thrillers of the era with one of the most evil villains around.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) – I STILL watch this every Christmas. There have been other attempts at a Santa Claus origin story, but this one is leaps and bounds above the rest. Also, pretty amazing stop-motion for a TV movie.
Star Wars original trilogy, un-messed-with versions (1977-1983) – I’m not sure I can faithfully tell you why I like these films. I’ve been watching them since I was an infant and they’re part of my psyche.
The Muppet Movie (1979) – One of the few great road movies, with one of the best songs ever written. And, I mean come on, muppets!
Superman (1978) – There is but one true Superman. The ending is stupid, but the rest is so good I don’t care.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – The only movie to ever make me jump in my seat. Also, it’s just got a lot of corny goodness. That wandering in the alien zombies scene, perfect!
The Blues Brothers (1980) – The last great musical. Seriously, there just weren’t any after that.
Chariots of Fire (1981) – Really strong writing and really crafted filmmaking.
Strange Brew (1983) – Too funny not to completely love.
Trading Places (1983) – Great comedians doing elaborate social commentary.
2010 (1984) – Even better than the previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Back to the Future (1985) – Really the whole trilogy, since it’s one continuous story. There’s everything good and nothing bad about these movies.
Fletch (1985) – The Fletch films were the last great reporter solving a mystery movies.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) – A very funny movie, and also kind of a feminist film.
Roxanne (1987) – An excellent modernization of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Back to the Beach (1987) – The last, and best, sequel of the 1960s beach movies with Frankie and Annette.
Spaceballs (1987) – You wouldn’t think a parody of Star Wars would be such a great movie in its own right, but here it is.
Big (1988) – Hanks at his silliest and cutest.
Willow (1988) – Soooo much better than LOTR. Yeah, I said it and it’s true.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Unique and strange, but good.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – A far-reaching adventure story with one of the better female protagonists in film (the little girl).
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988) – This film is about every independent filmmaker ever, including now. It somehow inspired me to make films even though it also showed me just how they’d never get seen.
Young Einstein (1988) – Just an incredible piece of comedy historical parody filmmaking.
Life Without Zoe – sub-movie in New York Stories (1989) – Kind of an aspirational fairytale for modern-day little girls who dream of traveling the world.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – My favorite of the series, mostly because of the interplay between him and his father. One of the great action-comedies.
Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Again, the best of the series. Most amazing character arcs, and one of the best female protagonists in film as Doc’s lady love.
Ghost (1990) – I mostly like this film because Whoopie is hilarious and the sound design is incredible.
Home Alone (1990) – I rewatched this as an adult, and it’s actually much more than a comedy. It’s really quite an interesting film despite the central logic errors.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – A great adventure film with funny cartoon mice.
Hook (1991) – Some great character study work here, and an impressive example of a subpar script being turned into a great movie by all the best people in Hollywood getting involved.
The Rocketeer (1991) – A great throwback to 1940s adventure serials, and some great moments of American patriotism against them filthy Nazis.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Actually a great piece of sci-fi in addition to being a very explody action movie. Also one of the few movies where I can’t decide between the theatrical release and the director’s cut because they’re both good for different reasons.
A League of Their Own (1992) – One of the few great feminist films.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – One of the few great action-comedies with a female lead.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) – Some mind-blowingly great singing here. The writing’s not bad either for the most part.
Groundhog Day (1993) – So funny! That’s all.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) – Some of the best comedy ever put on film, and not a bad adaptation of the Robin Hod story either.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – This is one of those few almost perfect movies. Just need to edit out 2 short scenes. Other than that, this movie is truly incredible.
I.Q. (1994) – A cute romantic comedy about geniuses in love.
Wallace & Gromit in A Close Shave (1995) – Probably the most cohesive story in the series. They’re all good though.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – Best Dracula movie ever, tied for first place with Robin Hood as the best Mel Brooks movie. Why couldn’t he have kept making films!?! Why!?!
Rumble in the Bronx (1995) – Some of Chan’s most creative fight scenes, and the first film of his I ever saw.
Babe (1995) – This movie should be really stupid, but it’s actually thoughtful and crafted and really sweet.
Canadian Bacon (1995) – One of the best, if not the best, political comedies ever made. And by Michael Moore yet. Not just a documentarian, clearly.
Independence Day (1996) – All around a pretty great action movie. The 2 main characters are the most fun to watch. Definitely Goldblum and Smith at their best. Just ignore the depressingly awful sequel.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – My favorite Bond girl ever (the smart, capable one; not the idiot who dies).
Monsters, Inc. (2001) – Just a cute film with a fun premise. Also the only Pixar movie that isn’t bizarre or unnecessarily sad.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – The best one in the series. Extends the philosophical argument from Star Wars about the dark side and includes some great character study with relevant political commentary. I just wish the good Dumbledore could have been in it instead of Gambon – who was muuuuch better as Maigret.
Hot Fuzz (2007) – This is such a strange and bizarre, yet innovative comedy I can’t help but like it. Just a slight edge over Shaun of the Dead – because it’s more original.

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

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Story: A military colonel attacks Caesar’s camp, causing Caesar to seek him out for revenge. But on the journey Cesar comes across a new human-plague and ends up in more of a psychological than physical war with the colonel.

Review:

First, the obvious. The VFX in this film are absolutely stunning and more realistic looking than anything I’ve seen before. While some of the motion capture had a few rare bumps and the integration of a waterfall in one scene had some seeming frame rate issues, the texturing and animation of the CG critters was phenomenal. The film is worth watching if only to see the artistry of the VFX and animation teams.

Now for the meat of any movie: the story. Visually, thematically, and storywise, this film is very obviously trying to be Apocalypse Now with Apes – or as some graffiti in the film puts it “Ape-ocalypse Now.” The general mis-en-scene is strongly reminiscent overall, but it didn’t become a totally shameless homage until the scene with the shaven-headed madman (seen above) having droning philosophical conversations about war and morality with the captive protagonist in his bunker while classic 60’s rock music plays in the background. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that nobody said “I love the smell of [something that burns] in the morning” at some point in the film since they had already gone as far as they did. It was a decent imitation, but I would have preferred original writing over re-creation. Also, and I mention this only because the same problem existed in Wonder Woman (see last review), there were an excessive number of moments where the leading characters postured proudly or gazed defiantly at each other without speaking for extended periods of time. You need this at key moments, of course, but if you do it all the time it loses all meaning and importance.

As for the more serialized part of the story, the plague thing was… okay. I prefer the original version where people just devolve over a long period of time due to domestication, but stuff caused by messing with DNA is a more modern sci-fi idea so it’s fine. I do disagree with the shortened timeline though. Since the experimentation was supposed to have happened 15 years before and the main characters of the first POTA film are children in this, it means that the timeline of all the movies put together is only about 20-30 years. It makes enough sense given the DNA alteration thing, but it’s so much less epic than a story which takes place over hundreds or thousands of years like the original version.

Recommended for: Fans of heavily psychological war movies and VFX-heavy films.

Content notes: (10+, PG) – Nothing outrageously gross, pretty violent but not super violent, more psychologically warped than anything else.

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